With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the unofficial start to the holiday season is about to begin.
While that usually entails a good time with friends and family, it also means a bunch of parties and lots of food, some of which can derail all the progress you made during the year.
So what can you do to make sure your fitness goals don’t go hibernating during the winter?
Here are a few tips to help you avoid fighting an uphill battle in January.
Determine Your Goals
Knowing what you want to accomplish this holiday season will be the key to finding success. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know if you ever get it?
Set some goals for yourself for the entire holiday season as well as the individual holidays that you choose to celebrate.
These short and medium term goals will help you focus on what is important to you. Is the wine and pie important to you or is staying in shape a priority? No one can determine that for you so you need to take a little time and come up with what is important to you.
Keep it Clean
When that big meal comes at Thanksgiving, Christmas or at whatever holiday you celebrate, you need to really understand what you are trying to accomplish.
The definition of “eating clean” is different for everyone depending on their goals. Someone who is bulking up will need different calories and macros than someone who is trying to lose weight.
A big 2,000 calorie meal may be a “cheat-meal” for most but may be a normal meal for others. It really depends on what your goals are.
Understanding what your nutrition requirements are can help you decide how you are going to tackle all the tempting holiday foods. Here are some common fitness goals and tips for these:
Building Muscle– If you are trying to gain weight you’ll need a lot of calories. Having a big meal at Thanksgiving may not be a cheat day at all if you are within your macros. Loading up on turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie may still be “eating clean” depending on your goal.
Calorie Restricted Weight Loss– If you are limiting your calories, then you can eat what you want since it will be more about portion control. You might still be able to eat all your favorite foods… you just might not be able to eat the portion sizes you want.
Ketogenic Weight Loss– If you are cutting carbs there are a lot of foods that you will need to cut out to remain on track but here are a lot of other foods that you can replace them with. Turkey, ham an lots of veggies are all pretty good choices.
Increased Athletic Performance – Knowing what your daily food requirements are along with the timing of your meals will be key here. This can vary widely depending on the sport you are training for.
If you are going to eat like crap and skip work outs, you can’t expect a lot of positive results.
Don’t get too crazy in either direction when setting goals. Know your limits but don’t be too conservative either.
Think about what your schedule will be like. Think about the social gatherings you will be going to. Think about the temptations you will have to avoid.
Will any of these alter your normal nutrition and exercise plan? If so you may need to scale back your normal goals.
Another important factor in goal setting realistic goals is how serious are you toward reaching your goal.
On one end are the people who work out for fun and don’t really follow a plan. It probably won’t be as important to them to try and eat clean and get to the gym for the holidays.
The other end of the spectrum includes the people who are training for a contest or competition. If you have a serious goal, there is not a lot of room for cheating during the holidays.
Most people who work out will fall somewhere in the middle, but you need to honestly assess where you are at. Is eating whatever you want more important or is getting that 8-pack ASAP a priority?
If you know what your goals are and how important it is to you, then you can come up with a plan on what you will do these holidays.
The best scenario will be if you can eat the foods you want and still stay on track.
This is where a few minutes of planning can save you months of trying to get back to where you were after a bad diet.
Look up the calories and macros for all the foods you plan on eating. Figure out beforehand if certain foods are OK or if you need to stay away from them.
See if you can fit all the foods you want into your meals. If you can’t, then see if you can take out other foods or adjust other meals so your calorie and macro totals will add up at the end of the day.
If you are cooking the food yourself another option is to alter certain recipes so they fit your macros.
Replacing starchy foods like potatoes with a veggie like cauliflower, or replacing sugar with stevia are examples that can reduce carbs and calories.
Planning out what you eat and how much you eat in advance will take out a lot of guesswork on the day.
To Cheat or Not to Cheat
If you can’t fit all your foods in, then you’ll need to decide if it is worth it to have a cheat meal or a cheat day. For some it’s a simple choice. Stick with your plan… no cheating.
For others the holidays are an important time and having a day to eat whatever you want is important for them. If this aligns with your goals and determination level than that’s fine but there are some things you can do to make sure you don’t slip too far off track.
On the days leading up to Thanksgiving or whatever day you plan on cheating, eat clean. Don’t let Thanksgiving day turn into Thanksgiving week or Thanksgiving month.
This goes for the days after the celebration as well. If you had a cheat day it does not need to be prolonged.
Give away the leftovers of the foods you shouldn’t eat, if you are at someone else’s house, don’t take leftovers home and if you are cooking for yourself just cook enough for that meal so there isn’t any extra temptation around.
Cheat days are not always a bad thing. I actually recommend them for most people once a week as long as they are not so far out of the norm that you lose a whole week of result from it.
To cheat, you need to be eating clean for the rest of the week. This also hold true for the holidays. Reward yourself with the cheat meal, but if you are eating like crap most of the time… you don’t need a reward for that.
Get Enough Protein
No matter what your goal is, whether you are eating clean or not, you don’t want to skimp on your protein.
There are a lot of tempting food items that people like that have very little protein. Don’t eat them exclusively and disregard the protein.
Protein is necessary for building muscle and to keep the muscle you already have. Since the amount of muscle you have helps with any fitness goal, it’s important that you don’t let your protein get too low when you are thinking about all the other foods you want to eat.
A good daily protein recommendation for most is between 0.6 and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Turkey is probably the most popular Thanksgiving food and it’s an excellent source of protein. Some people also have ham, fish or other meats. If you have any of these on the menu… make sure it’s on your plate.
For vegetarians, eggs and protein shakes are not typically on a holiday menu, but you can add these to all your traditional foods to give your protein a boost.
Limit the alcohol
A big killer to most fitness goals is alcohol. Unfortunately at most celebrations some people will opt for a drink to get into the mood.
If this is not you, that’s great. Your life is a lot simpler and you can focus on your foods and workouts, plus you will see results a lot quicker.
If it is you, it’s not the end of the world but you’ll have a longer road to travel to get to your goal.
Finding a way to limit your alcohol consumption will be important for getting through Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season.
This is another area where planning can help. If you know that you are going to drink you can figure out how much you will have and can plan the rest of your day and meal around that.
Another tip that I give my clients about alcohol is to only drink on special occasions. This means bigger events only. The weekend is not a special occasion. The month of December is not a special occasion.
Get your workouts in
In the grand scheme of things missing one workout is not that huge. You can probably get away with staying home on Thanksgiving day or Christmas as long as the trend does not continue.
There are many people who let their workouts totally slip during the holiday season. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say “I’ll start again in January.”
There are many reasons why this happens. Schedules get busier, weather gets worse, January seems like a new beginning, etc., etc.
Many gyms open early and close late and some are open 24/7. While sleep is important, you can get up a little earlier, go to sleep a little later or take a longer lunch break. There are many ways to squeeze a few hours in per week.
If it is important to you, you will find the time.
I often tell my clients “a bad workout is better than no workout” (as long as you don’t get injured, of course.) This means even if your workouts are shorter than usual, it is still better than nothing.
Taking a long break from your workout routine can be a huge setback for all the results you’ve worked for. Not only may you lose muscle and gain fat, you will also lose strength and stamina which makes your workouts that much tougher to get through.
A lot of people let their whole nutrition plan go to crap if they are not working out. If you are one of them, it’s even more important that you work out. You don’t want to make a bad situation worse by adding crappy nutrition to being sedentary.
Wrapping it Up
Hopefully these tips can help you make it through the holidays unscathed.
Do you have any tips that help you make it through the holidays? Leave a comment below or on the facebook group. I look forward to hearing other suggestions that help you.
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